Every since Chernobyl puffed its radioactive plume over Europe in 1986, Germany has been deeply suspicious of nuclear power. Opposition to Atomkraft is at the center of the country’s green movement, and almost a decade ago the country decided to phase out its nuclear plants by 2021.
Yesterday, however, Germany’s coalition government decided to extend the life of the country’s nuclear power plants by an average of 12 years.
Nuclear analysts have had their eye on Germany in recent years as one of the test-cases for a long-predicted nuclear renaissance in Europe, as the country balances concern over climate change and energy security against its fear of radioactivity. The country has become a world leader in alternative energy technology, but according to the BBC, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the decision by saying that renewables cannot meet Germany’s energy needs on their own. She said that nuclear provided a “bridge technology” until renewables become more viable. “The accord means that we will have energy security,” Merkel said.
Following Merkel’s announcement, Greenpeace released a lengthy statement criticizing the plan.
“Since Germany decided in 2001 to steadily phase out its nuclear reactors, the country became world’s leader in expansion of modern renewable energy supply. The decision to stick with old risky reactors would wipe out German’s leading position on technologies 21st century that already created quarter million new jobs. It is also a blow to the wide political and public consensus negotiated ten years ago. Only several large corporations would benefit from it with massively increased profits, the rest of society would badly loose.”
“Still, Merkel is set to loose on this dividing issue. Nearly two thirds of German citizens oppose nuclear power, and 150,000 people participated lately in the big demonstration against it. Even more protests and unrest are expected this autumn around transports of nuclear waste for which there is no solution. There are already several court cases running that challenge the plan for extended operation of old, unsafe reactors. If government agrees to the proposal and parliament approves it, Greenpeace is ready to take final ruling to Constitutional Court.”
Despite Greenpeace’s objection, Germany’s reversal is one of a string of recent, if small, victories for nuclear power. The Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, voted on June 17 to overturn a three-decades old ban on new nuclear reactors. Britain, Poland and Italy have joined atom-loving France in proposing new reactors.
No new reactors have yet to be built in Europe, however, other than a much-delayed reactor in Olkiluoto, Finland. That reactor, originally scheduled to open last year, now won’t be operational until 2013 at the earliest. The project is over-budget—by billions of euros—and French nuclear giant Areva and it’s client TVO have been slinging accusations back and forth as to which party is responsible for the overrun.
Indeed, it’s been a tough run recently for the nuclear industry as a whole. After growing 750% in the ’70s, and 140% in the ’80s, nuclear-generating capacity increased by only 8% in the ’90s.
But that’s hasn’t stopped analysts from predicting big things for nuclear in the future, or investors from looking hopefully for signs of growth in the sector. Following Merkel’s announcement, E.ON, Germany’s biggest utility, had its biggest intraday gain since May 27, advancing as much as 3.7 percent, according to Bloomberg. RWE, based in Essen, climbed as much as 2.8 percent. Before today, the stocks had tumbled 21 percent since the start of the year, putting them among the DAX Index’s 3 biggest losers, Bloomberg reported.
According to Reuters, however, the extension of the nuclear plants is by no means assured: “It is still unclear if the government can implement the accord without support from the Bundesrat, the parliamentary upper house where the 16 states are represented. The government no longer has a majority in the Bundesrat, which means that if it was put to a vote there, it could lose.”